Arguments rage about the Bible and how we should interpret it, especially about the Old Testament. Conservative christians are often critical of those who take a “liberal” view, which conservatives see as destructive and unfaithful, while sceptics tend to see the conservatives as not following the evidence.
Is there any way to break through on this question? Are there any clues in the Bible itself?
It turns out that there is much food for thought.
Clues in the Old Testament
I have previously discussed parts of the Old Testament that suggest that the Bible cannot be seen as an inerrant textbook of God’s character and the behaviour he requires of us:
- In The surprise of finding the Bible isn’t exactly what we thought it was, I discussed how two adjacent proverbs contradict each other, and Biblical teachings on divorce and inter-racial marriage are also contradictory.
- In Old Testament God angry, New Testament God loving. Right? Or wrong? I outlined how both Jesus and Paul omit statements about vengeance and violence when quoting Old Testament passages.
I concluded then that the Bible God has given us must be a little different from what our theology might tell us, and some sections are corrected by other sections (mostly the New Testament corrects the Old).
Today, courtesy of Peter Enns, I came across another example.
Jehu, the mad chariot driver
2 Kings 9 tells the story of a mad chariot driver, the devious and murderous Jehu. The year is 841 BCE, and Jehu is the army commander of Israel under king Jehoram (or Joram), and they are fighting the Syrians. The king is wounded and retires from the battle. The prophet Elisha chooses this time to secretly anoint Jehu as king, to replace Joram, confirming a previous anointing by the Prophet Elijah. Elisha tells Jehu to kill all the family of the line of Ahab – Joram, Jezebel and all their relatives – because of their evil in worshipping Baal and in killing prophets.
Jehu is up to the challenge, and in his chariot leads a force of troops to Jezreel where king Joram is meeting with Ahaziah, king of Judah. The lookout recognises Jehu because he “drives like a maniac”. The two kings foolishly go out to meet him, and Jehu kills them both. He duly continues the purge and brutally kills Jezebel, and arranges for more than seventy other descendants to be gruesomely murdered, and his coup is complete.
Jehu went on to reign as king of Israel for 27 years and establish one of the longer dynasties of that turbulent period (5 kings in all reigning for 102 years).
It is easy to gloss over the horror of these events (and so many others like them), but they were brutal times and life was cheap – 4 kings of Israel were assassinated in 2 decades. Yet this murderous coup is said to have been commanded by God through the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Hosea has a different idea
Hosea was a prophet in Israel at this time, and appears to have been an educated and informed man – perhaps a member of a well-to-do family. At the beginning of the book of Hosea (1:4), he records a message given to him by God:
“I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel”
Who was right?
Did Elisha and Elijah get it right and Hosea somehow misunderstood God? Or was it the other way round? Or did God change his mind? It is hard to be happy with any of these “explanations”.
Conservative christian commentators say that God truly commanded the destruction of the house of Ahab, but Jehu went too far and so was himself condemned, but it is hard to accept this too, for Jehu seems to have done exactly as he was supposedly commanded.
Peter Enns suggests that the truth is that the Old Testament isn’t an accurate and consistent record of God’s commands, but rather a record of the varying viewpoints as the Jews struggled to understand God.
Perhaps the prophets Elijah and Elisha did hear from God on some occasions, but at other times fell into the trap of using their authority as God’s spokespersons to justify their own political assessments and the brutal standards of the day.
Two ways to respond
How should we respond?
One way is to keep hold of our dogmatic view of scripture as consistent, authoritative and without error, and find a way to explain and justify God’s behaviour, as if it is immoral for us to murder but OK for God to command us to murder.
I am deeply troubled by such an approach for it preserves a view of scripture that isn’t taught there, at the cost of impugning God’s loving character revealed most completely in Jesus.
I think it is more honest, more in accordance with the evidence, and a better understanding of God’s character, to see the Old Testament as a record of God’s interaction with humans, who started with many misunderstandings that were slowly corrected until God sent Jesus.
I don’t pretend to understand all this, but I think that is as close to the truth as I can get, just now at any rate.
What do you think?
Photo: Assyrian chariot with charioteer and archer protected from enemy attack by shield bearers – not the same as the Israelite chariots mentioned in this post, but close enough. Wikipedia (Wikimedia Commons).
Reblogged this on invernest and commented:
Another thought provoking post from unkleE
This question has plagued me more than any other in the last couple of years. I have heard several theories but nothing that has made me say, “yes, of course!”.
For now, I am okay with admitting uncertainty as to how to approach certain OT texts. The only reason I can say that is because of Jesus. In Him we have a clear picture of what God is like and how we are to treat others.
Here’s a thought that might be of some help.. Most of us are okay with the idea that God could rain fire & brimestone down on cities, like Sodom.. or He could send a plague, or a flood, etc.. I suppose because we think of these as natural disasters — but still God caused them to happen. Why do we get so upset if he commands a person to kill another person? Take the children of Israel coming into the land of Canaan for example.. they were commanded to kill everyone and everything.
But if God truly governs all life, and He is the eternal judge, and creator of the world and life, then we must trust his judgment. God can certainly do the killing, and really one could say he takes every human life at some point. But maybe the person he commanded needed to learn something about absolute obedience, and faith.. and so he used this extreme method to teach it. It offends our moral sense, but in reality, whatever God commands is right.
We just need to be certain that He actually gave the command.. much harm has been done by people who mistakenly felt they were following God’s will.
much harm has been done by people who mistakenly felt they were following God’s will.
You can say that again !
Hi Wesley, I took the same view for many years – I used Jesus as my yardstick for God, on that basis I knew I couldn’t accept the commands to kill as being relevant to me, but I didn’t understand how it all fitted together. But in recent years, after a long time praying and considering, and then reading, I came to the view I’ve expressed here.
Hi West, I’ll resist the temptation to say that again! 🙂
Hi Tom, I have thought along similar lines. The world is a dangerous place, God allows natural suffering through accidents, disasters and natural laws and processes, so why shouldn’t he interfere more directly to end people’s lives? There is certainly logic in that.
But in the end I didn’t find that an acceptable way of looking at it.
1. It seems so contrary to Jesus, and therefore contrary to the best we know about God.
2. If God chooses to take a life, who am I to argue, but if God tells a human to take a life after telling them not to murder, I can see some real difficulties. (i) People will often get God’s commands wrong with terrible consequences. (ii) Killing affects the person doing the killing, and soldiers can come back from war highly traumatised – would God do that to them?
I concluded that what you suggest is terribly dangerous and contrary to Jesus, so in the end I had to reject that way of thinking. I understand it, but I can’t agree with it. As I say in the post, we protect a view of the Bible (that isn’t biblical anyway) at the great cost of giving a false (I believe) view of God.
Do you feel quite comfortable with that view?
If it is true that as you say:
“I think it is more honest, more in accordance with the evidence, and a better understanding of God’s character, to see the Old Testament as a record of God’s interaction with humans, who started with many misunderstandings that were slowly corrected until God sent Jesus”
why shouldn’t we see the New Testament in the same light, as God working with people with many misunderstandings that God is continuing to correct until whenever?
Once one commits to a particular hermeneutic is really isn’t intellectually consistent (or possibly honest?) to not apply that hermeneutic to all biblical interpretation. Surely we are not now free of misunderstandings that God shouldn’t correct are we? Why should we stop with a Jesus stuck in an antiquated historical past cultural context?
Hi, thanks for your question. Let me ask you a question before I attempt to answer yours.
If I buy a copy of all Shakespeare’s plays in one anthology, I will find that the first four plays that were performed were all historical plays (Henry VI parts 1-3 and Richard III). The fifth one is Comedy of Errors. So my question to you is:
Why shouldn’t we see Comedy of Errors as a historical play like the earlier ones?
Or, what would the implications be for, far more horrible, that bloody macabre Titus Andronicus?
I knew nothing about Titus Andronicus, but I looked it up and I see what you mean.
Ah, answering a question with a question feels a bit too political to be helpful. It often seems we are more interested in being politically/culturally acceptable and comprehensible than biblically faithful. I think we should take the whole of scripture as the revelation of who God IS and continues to be. That understood in faithful submission to the new covenant teaching of Jesus and his apostles gives a distinctly different hermeneutical matrix with which to understand God and his will for us than either a merely Jewish Old Covenant concept or a post Enlightenment, post-modern, post-Christendom, or post-whatever conception of things might provide us. Get jiggy with Jesus and you just might see God in a more comprehensively consistent manner.
” I think we should take the whole of scripture as the revelation of who God IS and continues to be. “
I think so too. And I think your original question was a good one. But I think answering my question will help me answer yours. So why not give it a try?
Well, if Shakespeare and God produce the same kind of literary works why should I care whether God’s are historical or whatever? I actually don’t see the relevance of your question, and don’t consider myself adequately educated or even particularly interested in the answer. So, I think your answering my question will help me answer yours, so why not give it a try? 8>) I don’t think this line of inquiry is likely to be productive. My theological question is not fruitfully answered by any possible reply to a question about Shakespearean literature.
Hi, it was really no mystery. You suggested that if we interpret one book of the Bible a certain way, we should be consistent and interpret the rest that way. I wanted to see how you made judgments about the genre of different writings. But on your own admission, you are not interested in the question. Which means, I think, that your views are based on dogma rather than on evidence. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is helpful to know.
I considered asking you a simpler question – e.g. how do you decide whether we should interpret the front page news in a newspaper and the comics in the same way? They are in the same publication, so why wouldn’t your same logic apply? But I decided not to because you have said you aren’t interested in such questions.
But you can by now guess my answer to your original question. We are quite capable as human beings of distinguishing between different genres of writing (like news and comics). And it is clear that the Bible contains different genres – history, poetry, parable, letter, etc. I don’t think anyone sensible thinks we can interpret them all just the same.
For example, when Jesus says “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) we know enough to understand that he meant this to be a teaching. But when he said “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers” (Luke 12:46) we understand this to be part of a parable and not a command for us.
So there is no reason to think that because we interpret a passage in the Old Testament in a certain way, that we should interpret another passage in the NT in the same way. That would be very foolish, and I very much doubt that you would do that.
Now you can see perhaps why I asked you the question first. You will perhaps respond to what I have said here by trying to think of ways you can argue against it, but had you done the thinking yourself, you may have come to the same outcome and been happy with it. But at any rate, that is my answer to your question. Thanks.
I think you misunderstand my original point, my “interest,” and perhaps other things. First of all, we might need to agree that the theological term “hermeneutic” is usually considered to be the base level principle one uses to understand texts considered revelation from and about God. This is the way people do theology, not interpret literary ouvre or newspapers generally speaking. There are of course different types of literature in scripture necessitating various hermeneutical sub-principles in interpretation. This is an opinion based on evidence, by the way.
Can we get back to the topic and the theology being discussed now?
I have asserted that if one adopts a particular, overarching, but unavoidably self-contradictory hermeneutic, that is problematic and should be avoided. If one interprets Jesus’ teaching that enjoins on his followers a non-violent role in the world to establish a hermeneutic that invalidates and falsifies any Old Covenant texts in which God enjoin on his people acts of violence one is evidently using an hermeneutic not used by Jesus. Because Jesus didn’t use this particular hermeneutic I don’t think we should either.
If one uses a purely “God is non-violent” hermeneutic to interpret the Old Testament then there really wouldn’t be much left with any authority or validity for us there because so much is being dismissed as mistaken, in error, false, etc. Using the same hermeneutic on the New Testament as a whole seems necessary in part because it is being used as though it is an interpretive principle based on the teaching of Jesus. However, this would quickly undermine substantial parts of the New Testament texts including the teaching of Jesus. If one reads the New Testament with an understanding of the apocalyptic theological and cultural context in which it was written it is clear that the authors didn’t think God couldn’t use violence in judging the nations, bringing justice, and establishing his kingdom.
Hi, I must admit I am a little confused. You want to talk about hermeneutics, which is defined as “the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts” – so applies to Shakespeare as well as to the Bible, but you don’t want to talk about genre. But hermeneutics includes genre! – Wikipedia says “each genre of Scripture has a different set of rules that applies to it”.
(1) So do you think that we can do hermeneutics without accounting for genre?
” If one interprets Jesus’ teaching that enjoins on his followers a non-violent role in the world to establish a hermeneutic that invalidates and falsifies any Old Covenant texts in which God enjoin on his people acts of violence one is evidently using an hermeneutic not used by Jesus.”
This isn’t actually true, because Jesus (and Paul) did avoid OT texts that enjoined violence! You can read about it in another of my posts, where both Jesus and Paul quote Old Testament passages and omit a section which talks about vengeance!
So I am not doing something that Jesus didn’t do at all!
But let me test you with another question. Here are two passages, one from the OT, one from the NT.
Psalm 137:9: “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
Matthew 5: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
My questions are: (2) Do you think both of these are equally God’s and Jesus’ advice to us (you and I) today? (3) If not, why shouldn’t we see them both in the same light (to use your phrase)?
Not need for confusion. Applying the hermeneutic proposed for dealing with violence and non-violence in scripture doesn’t in itself deal with genre, just the ethics of violence.
Jesus or Paul truncating or eliding some texts that deal with God’s acts or intention to do violence don’t eliminate that from all New Testament texts. If you want me to mine the New Testament for those in the latter category it wouldn’t be difficult (“cast them into outer darkness,” “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” etc.)
The Psalms passage is not “advice.” Jesus’ words to us as his follows are commandments. The Old Covenant teaching/law is not the teaching/commands of Jesus–we are subject to the obligations and mores of the New Covenant. Old versus New Covenant obligations are pretty basic Christian theological distinctions.
No need for confusion. There are obvious differences between the Old and New Covenant commands. There is, however, nothing in the New Testament that vaguely suggests that Old Testament prophets or authors were mistaken about what they said about God vis a vis violence. That is a modern, and I think problematic, theological assertion that undermines the value and authority of the whole of scripture because it is inherently self-contradictory. Read the New Testament open to the possibility that God continues to be seen by its authors as ready to judge the sinful and the whole world through some form of violence and you may need to revise your hermeneutic on this point.
“There are obvious differences between the Old and New Covenant commands.”
So genre, or something else, is important after all?
Never said it wasn’t. Just objected to one criteria (non-violence) being used to decide whether biblical texts were true or not.
Well I guess it all becomes a little clearer now. You were assuming I was using “one criteria (non-violence)”, but I wasn’t.
In response, I asked you some questions about genre, which should have been an indication of at least part of my answer, and would have done so if you’d been willing to answer my questions.
So OK, I’ll explain more fully.
1. I asked you questions, not to be cute or to avoid the question, but because I thought you were making wrong assumptions and had an inconsistent hermeneutic. But the way these discussions usually go, arguing directly would only tend to harden your position, so I tried to encourage self discovery. (Which has eventually happened.)
2. I think there are many factors involved in deciding your original question, which was: “why shouldn’t we see the New Testament in the same light” [as the OT]. You agree that Psalm 137 and Matthew 5 do not have the same status and the same hermeneutic. Similar principles apply to the passages you first questioned me about, and you know some of them, for you say:
“there are obvious differences between the Old and New Covenant commands”
“The Psalms passage is not “advice.” Jesus’ words to us as his follows are commandments.”
“The Old Covenant teaching/law is not the teaching/commands of Jesus–we are subject to the obligations and mores of the New Covenant. Old versus New Covenant obligations are pretty basic Christian theological distinctions.”
3. So if you follow through the logic of those statements of yours, and also think a little about genre, I think you will understand my post better.
What do you think now?
What I think is that you haven’t addressed the issue of applying a hermeneutic that says something like: “God can’t do violence because Jesus didn’t and taught his followers to do no violence.” Note: you didn’t even mention it though I keep going there specifically. The issue here is not a question of genre but of ethics and hermeneutics. My question was not “why shouldn’t we see the New Testament in the same light” [as the OT]? But rather something like this: “if one finds it necessary to apply a particular hermeneutic to the OT (the aforementioned non-violence hermeneutic) why would it not be necessary to apply that same hermeneutic to the NT”? I am definitely doing my best to approach the whole of scripture with one consistent hermeneutic, recognizing that there are of necessity all kinds of subsequent adaptations to historical context, genre, authorial intent and re-adaptation to later narrative and theological context. Also being aware that I haven’t tried to delineated anything like a complete hermeneutical schema–I have merely been pointing out what seem to be problems inherent in the kind of hermeneutic of non-violence common in Anabaptist tribal discourse.
Hi RW, thanks for further comment. However I must say I find your approach somewhat confusing.
1. You ask me a question about why an interpretation of the OT shouldn’t affect how we interpret the NT, but then you say you aren’t willing to work through the issues with me in the way I suggest.
2. Then, responding to my question, you agree that we should interpret Psalm 137 the same way we’d interpret Matthew 5, apparently agreeing with me that the change from OT to NT and the difference in genre between a Psalm (which is not a command) and Jesus’ teaching (which does contain commands) makes a difference.
3. Now you accuse me of “applying a hermeneutic that says something like: “God can’t do violence because Jesus didn’t and taught his followers to do no violence.”
We have already agreed that there are significant differences between Psalm 137 and Matthew 5, not related to violence but to genre and OT vs NT, so why are you simplifying down to this one issue?
But let’s revise. Check out my post and you’ll see that I started by referring to two Proverbs that contradict each other, and to the case of violence in the OT, which I had previously discussed. I don’t dwell on violence, but rather my opening statement was this: “I concluded then that the Bible God has given us must be a little different from what our theology might tell us, and some sections are corrected by other sections (mostly the New Testament corrects the Old).”
So I started by referring to the differences between OT and NT, the differences in genre, which indicate that Jesus and the NT revise, correct and reinterpret the OT, – which we have (I thought) agreed on. I then gave another example showing that even within the OT there seems to be change and development or correction. I didn’t discuss violence explicitly, but ended with this conclusion (that doesn’t mention violence):
“I think it is more honest, more in accordance with the evidence, and a better understanding of God’s character, to see the Old Testament as a record of God’s interaction with humans, who started with many misunderstandings that were slowly corrected until God sent Jesus.”
So, how do you interpret those passages, except in the way that I have concluded?
I appreciate the extent of your willingness to interact, and pray I am respectfully honoring your efforts.
RWW: Re. 1: I didn’t say I wasn’t willing to work through the issues the way you suggest, just “suggested” that you weren’t actually addressing the issues I identified.
Re. 2: I definitely did not say I would “agree” “we should interpret Psalm 137 the same way we’d interpret Matthew 5.” I actually said that Psalm 137 wasn’t “advice” for us as you said it was, and implied that Matt. 5 wasn’t advice by saying that it was a “command.” You did not take note of the difference between the Psalm “(which is not a command) and Jesus’ teaching [Matt 5] (which does contain commands).” You didn’t say that then, so why should I think you were saying that? This was a distinction I pointed out not one you did.
Re. 3: That wasn’t so much an accusation as the obvious implication of asking the question of whether “God command[ed] killings in the Old Testament or was it a misunderstanding.” There are lots of Anabaptist type Nerds who are asserting that very thing: that the texts are in error, that God as known through the revelation in/through Jesus couldn’t do or command violence against anyone–hence thinking that God commanded killing anyone was a mistaken human imposition of their will on God. Now, I think I understand how difficult it might be for an absolute pacifist thousands of years after some texts were written to understand how God could “command” or commend some violent acts and then condemn those he had sent to that task. But I don’t think our conception of contradictions in the biblical texts do justice to the texts.
Sure, the surface dichotomy between 2Kings9 and Hosea 1 may indicate some grounds for critique of the OT redactors as missing this problem. Or it may be possible that we are just not picking up on the subtle differences in understanding what the authors were trying to accomplish. Perhaps, as argued by glenn miller (at http://christianthinktank.com/qjehu.html) the apparent textual discontinuities “should not lead to the conclusion that Hosea is condemning Jehu for fulfilling God’s command. Instead, Yahweh now announces that he will turn the tables on the house of Jehu because of the real issue, i.e., what has happened in the meantime. In the same way that Jehu in 842 had annihilated a dynasty famed for its long history of oppression and apostasy, so Yahweh himself will now put an end to the Jehu dynasty because it, in turn, has grown hopelessly corrupt.” His conclusion is that “instead of having a surface-contradiction that we have to resolve by ‘digging under it’ to find background, context, etc., we do not even have a contradiction on the surface. The passages just aren’t even talking about the same thing. The Elijah passage is talking about Jehu’s actions and the Hosea passage is talking about Israel’s unfaithfulness (and its consequences). There is not even a ‘problem’ here to actually solve.” There is another “solution” to the “problem” here: https://infidels.org/library/modern/leonard_jayawardena/jehu.html and another here:https://answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/why-did-god-condemn-jehu/
Whether these resolutions of this issue are completely valid or not really isn’t the main concern, but discrediting the accuracy of the revelation of God’s character definitely is. And that is what you have proposed, that OT authors and prophets “misunderstood” who God was and is. The particular line of reasoning you propose is so globally absolutist that virtually the whole of the OT would also be discredited by the same line of reasoning. Hence, my critique of what you have said.
I am not “simplifying down to this one issue” of “Psalm 137 and Matthew 5,” as “related to violence” though that IS how you posed it, but tried to clarify because the differences are not just “genre” as per the “OT vs NT.” You asked why I wouldn’t consider them equally “advice” and I replied that neither of them were advice. So, it wasn’t me that tried to over simplify the issue.
Re: 4. You seem to be arguing that despite the fact that the title of your post implies a debate about whether God could command violence: “Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?” that really isn’t what you were trying to say, at least explicitly. My apologies if the title of your post mislead me into thinking that you were trying to say something about whether God could command killing (which you more explicitly explored in other posts). Excuse me if I’m oversimplifying here, but you do seem to be arguing that the OT is contradictory about what God willed and commanded regarding killing, so we shouldn’t accept it as authoritative revelation of God; and that since Jesus teaches his followers to act non-violently as he did and taught that the NT corrects the mistaken views of God contained in the OT. Am I somehow mistaken about whether this is what you have been trying to say?
Your saying “differences in genre, which indicate that Jesus and the NT revise, correct and reinterpret the OT,” implies a category mistake. Differences in genre don’t indicate any such thing–differences in genre have nothing to do with revising, correcting, or reinterpreting anything–they are just different literary modes of communication.
How I see it is that God revealed himself and his will to his people as he has desired to do so at every time in the history of his interaction with those he called to be his representatives as recorded in the biblical narrative, however given the restraints of cultural context. The portrayal of his moral attributes in later texts do not in any way “correct” those of previous revelation, as though those portrayals were mistaken or in error. It seems evident from your line of reasoning that you may actually think you have a more refined understanding of the moral character of God than did Jesus himself. You think the OT authors and prophets were mistaken about what they thought God had commanded them to do but Jesus (as far as is evidenced in scripture) had no thoughts anything remotely like this. How do you explain that?
Hi, please be assured I have no complaints about your respectfulness or courteousness. My only difficulty is understanding what you are saying.
Unfortunately there was a typo in my last reply, where I said “we should interpret” when I meant “we shouldn’t interpret”. I several times later on talked about differences and made my point clear, but obviously I confused you, I’m sorry.
So before we move on, let’s clarify. I think many parts of the OT, and the OT as a whole, are different to the NT in various ways, which means we have to interpret them and apply them differently. In the example, Psalm 137 is different in various ways to Matthew 5, so we should interpret them and apply them differently.
Do you agree with those statements, or not? Thanks.
Yes, of course the OT and the NT need to be understood in different manners. I think that all New Covenant believers and followers of God in Christ have to interpret the texts of the two covenants differently. I take that as a given from the witness of the Gospels and authors of the New Covenant texts. I think this is especially the case regarding violence–in the OT God obviously is said to have commanded violence at different times for different “crimes” whereas in the NT we have Jesus commanding his followers to take up their own crosses and follow him in non-violent witness and ministry to all.
Hi, thanks for that answer, with which I agree. And that is at least a part answer to your original question. Just because I interpret an OT passage one way doesn’t at all mean I should use a similar hermeneutic for a NT passage, just as you say. And contrary to what you say, I think genre does matter. I wouldn’t interpret a parable in the same way I’d interpret the sermon on the mount.
“you do seem to be arguing that the OT is contradictory about what God willed and commanded regarding killing, so we shouldn’t accept it as authoritative revelation of God; and that since Jesus teaches his followers to act non-violently as he did and taught that the NT corrects the mistaken views of God contained in the OT.”
Yes, I am suggesting that. Even apart from the killing, the OT is no longer authoritative to those of us who live under the new covenant, but it is still inspired revelation. But the revelation isn’t what some of us think (that is, an inerrant indication of God’s character) because it records the process along the way. So we see totally wrong, primitive, developing and very deep and holy views of God side-by-side, and we can see some of the process by which they were changed and developed.
As I said, Jesus did have a thought on that, because he omitted a reference to vengeance when he quoted from Isaiah in Luke 4, and he corrected the teaching on an eye for an eye in Matthew 5.
I have looked at the references you have given on the Jehu incident (thanks) and decided it required a longer response, so you can find that in my next post – Should christians accept everything in the Old Testament as truly from God?.
Quick comment (way too late to be very comprehensive or maybe even coherent.
Why, if as you say:
” But the revelation isn’t what some of us think (that is, an inerrant indication of God’s character) because it records the process along the way.”
shouldn’t we apply this perspective to New Testament revelation as well?
What is good for the OT goose ought to be good for the NT gander as well, no?
An even briefer response – why would you think that?
Because otherwise one is justifying one’s own personal subjective/divergent hermeneutic (applies to OT not NT, just an example) and hence condoning each and every other essentially subjective/disparate hermeneutic (as though every hermeneutic is equally valid).
I realized I should have made this part of the short response.
Do you really think, after all this, that I am justifying my personal, subjective opinions? Haven’t we agreed that we can’t interpret the Psalms and Matthew the same way? Haven’t I offered extensive reasons, especially in my subsequent post, for the conclusions I have come to?
I’m sorry, I know this isn’t the way you have been used to thinking, but if I’m wrong, surely it is up to you to put a counter argument, not just keep asking me why we shouldn’t interpret the NT the same as the OT when we have agreed that we shouldn’t?
So let me summarise:
1. The OT is a different covenant to the NT.
2. The genres are different.
3. The historical and literary evidence are different.
4. The implications are different.
5. The internal evidence is different.
Finally, you have been challenging me, now let me challenge you (in a friendly manner). Why don’t you think and pray about whether God could be trying to teach you something new?
I think I am always open to learning new things about the God of the Bible. But when someone says “that isn’t God” about the God of the Bible, I’m very skeptical because if one rejects what the Bible says about God then the only alternative is one’s own subjective justifications for what one thinks God is like (or accepting someone else’s view).
1. As noted this is clear from the New Covenant witnesses.
2. Some are different and others are virtually the same: eg., history, interpreted.
3. This is the issue: how one interprets the historical and literary evidence is critical.
4. Is it your understanding that the implication is that there is a different kind of God in each? This is the only conclusion that seems reasonable given the assertion that God can’t do violence.
5. You’ve already mention evidence in 3.
PS: I’m pretty sure I’ve posed a number of counter arguments; I was sure you’d have noticed by now.
Hi, a few corrections.
“if one rejects what the Bible says about God then the only alternative is one’s own subjective justifications”
My posts (this and the next one) indicate my observation that the Bible says different things about God at different points. So I’m not rejecting what the Bible says, I am trying to find the right interpretation of the different things it says. I have said all along that my criterion is the way Jesus reveals God, because (1) I am a christian so I follow Jesus and (2) he is the most compete revelation of God. I feel you are still misunderstanding and minimising my reasons..
“Is it your understanding that the implication is that there is a different kind of God in each? This is the only conclusion that seems reasonable given the assertion that God can’t do violence.”
I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you mean here. I meant that the gospels are recognised as historical biographies, which has certain implications for how we interpret them, whereas the OT passages we are discussing are certainly not that, and often appear to be saga, folk tale, chronicles, etc. And to my memory I have never said “God can’t do violence”, but rather I find the OT portrayal of God different to Jesus. Violence is part of that, sure, but not all of that.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve posed a number of counter arguments; I was sure you’d have noticed by now.”
Can you perhaps simply list them please. Thanks.
About 1) violence and 2) the change of our understanding of God’s character.
1) Isn’t God using violence to destroy the temple in 70 AD? Reading N. T. Wright I have come to an understanding, that Jesus coming on clouds is an expression for God’s judgement over those who turned Jesus and his message down. The theological point, however, has a historical component – namely that the destruction of the temple simply happened because of the jews rebellion against Rome.
A question: How do you view the Olivet Discourse? I have found N. T. Wright to be meaningful to me.
2) You have quoted C. S. Lewis on the revelation of God through the OT and the NT. Did you know that his book Mere Christianity can be read for free here: http://www.samizdat.qc.ca/vc/pdfs/MereChristianity_CSL.pdf
1. I don’t think God destroyed the temple, I think the Romans destroyed it because the Jews rebelled against them. It was God’s judgment on the Jewish religious system, but he only foresaw it, he didn’t do it (I think, and it seems I am agreeing with NT Wright). I think judgment can mean punishment, but it can also mean an assessment. In this case, God has wanted to bring in the new covenant, and so the old covenant must be phased out – which is his judgment on the old.
I think the Olivet discourse is mostly about events in the next generation, but is sometimes about longer term events. I don’t think we need to try too hard to separate out which was which, because the urgency to know about those things was for his hearers, not us.
2. Thanks for the CS Lewis link. I knew some of his writings were now freely available, but I don’t remember if I knew about that one. It is a little out of date now, but is still a good book.
That makes good sense to me.
What do you mean about “the next generation”?
I have begun reading Mere Christianity. It really inspires me!
Glad you’re enjoying Mere Christianity. I don’t read Lewis now as much as I used to, but I still appreciate him when I do.
I meant that I think much, maybe most, of Jesus’ predictions, made about 30 CE, were fulfilled in the next 50 years, especially in the Jewish rebellion of 65-70 and the destruction of the temple in 70. So some of his hearers would still be alive at the end of that time, but many would have died by then and it would be their children who would go through those times.
Are you in line with Tom Wrigt in that the language in the Olivet Discourse is symbolic? I think about the whole world being destroyed and the moon and sun and stars being darkened and falling from the sky.
About the persecution: Did the apostles really get persecuted? Isn’t it only af few of them, and didn’t it only happen very late, when christianity already had been spread?
– I think about the argument that no one would give their life for something they knew was a lie. But if they were not persecuted until late … and when they were it was perhaps too late for them to back-pedal … then how much worth is that argument?
Yes, I am sure much of it is symbolic, but probably not all of it. We can see an example of something similar in Acts 2, when Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, quoting from the prophet Joel that “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” – and he says that prophecy was being fulfilled at that time. Clearly he was taking that part metaphorically. So it seems reasonable to say the same about Jesus’ similar statements.
Many stories of the apostles’ martyrdom were written in the first few centuries, so there is good evidence for it, but many read like legends. Recently some have claimed they were all exaggerated. I haven’t studied it much, but I think, like a lot of things, the truth probably lies between the two extremes.
I think this summary, admittedly by a christian apologist, may be reasonably balanced. Christians were persecuted, but it wasn’t everyone and it wasn’t as extensive as some think.
Just out of curiosity, you said you came from Denmark. Do you live in Denmark?
Thank you for the links! 🙂
I’m always enjoying your balanced views.
Yes, I live en Denmark 🙂
Hi Thomas, thanks for the encouragement. I’m sorry your comments don’t appear straight away – WordPress is keeping you on moderation, I don’t know why, and I will try to fix it up. Thanks for your interest.
That’s ok 🙂
Can I send you a comment on your website using the form, where I give you my email-adress – without my email-adress appearing on the website?
Hi Thomas, yes, the email link at the top does that. I look forward to hearing from you.
Talking about the olivet discourse you said earlier:
“Yes, I am sure much of it is symbolic, but probably not all of it.”
Do you think that any part of the Olivet Discourse was meant to be applied to the end times (in our future)?
Also I have some questions that plagues me … maybe it plages me especially much because I have begun reading the whole bible.
1) The Petrine Epistles seem to be NOT written by Peter. But by someone who appearently doesn’t even knew Jesus.
2) There are a lot of talking about the end times being very near in the apostles writings. Paul even says that he will be alive – and changed bodily – when Jesus returns.
I have a hard time sailing smooth through these “doubting questions”.
There are several views that some people seem to hold about this passage that I question – I don’t necessarily disagree, but I do question.
One is that they assume we can and should be able to decipher cryptic references Jesus made and get definite historical/prophetic information out of it – like some sort of timeline of events. I doubt that. I don’t think Jesus was giving us any firm prediction of events (the same is often true, I believe, for the OT prophets) but rather a picture of the sorts of things that could happen.
So trying to assign sections of this passage to different time periods seems questionable to me. One interpretation of the book of Revelation is that it teaches theological truths but not a historical or literal timeline of events, and I think that could be true here also.
So I think that different ones of Jesus’ sayings here may apply to back then, or the so-called end times, or somewhere in between, or even two at once.
I also think we cannot be clear how to interpret “the end times”. In many respects, we are in the end times now, but in other respects they are still to come.
So I think the whole thing is muddy.
I think many of the sayings apply right through this age – e.g. wars and rumours of wars. I think some parts applied most particularly back then – e.g. the abomination of desolation.I think the sun and moon darkening are metaphorical (Peter quoted Joel to this effect in Acts 2). I think not knowing the day and hour applies right through from then until the very end. So I’m not sure if there are any sayings that apply to the very end only, but plenty that apply then, and now as well.
I am a little sceptical about the claims, on the basis of style, that certain books weren’t written by the named author. I think authors can change their style, and I haven’t seen anyone do detailed analysis of other authors to test their method. But it remains true that 2 Peter is doubted by many (1 Peter not so much).
I don’t worry all that much. If I believed that the Bible was inerrant and everything had to have apostolic authority, then it would matter. But I trust the gospels and Acts as history, and I accept the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the epistles etc on faith without necessarily thinking they are perfect. I don’t believe we should follow any teaching slavishly and pedantically – Paul says in Romans 7:4-6 and 2 Corinthians 3:6 that we live by the Spirit and not by rules (see also Galatians 5:13-26, Luke 16:16-17, Romans 13:8-10 & Romans 14:23).
Despite what anyone says, I believe all christians filter the Bible’s teaching through their own understanding, and all reject some parts and emphasise other parts. I think the only thing wrong with this is that they ought to be more strongly praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance before they do it, and they should recognise explicitly they do it rather than try to pretend that they don’t.
I don’t worry too much about the early church expecting the end times real soon. Maybe they were mistaken, who cares? But if the end times started with the coming of Jesus, they weren’t mistaken in their expectation, only in how they understood what would happen in the end times.
I’m sorry if you aren’t having smooth sailing. But this is how we learn and grow sometimes. I think we need to hold firmly to the things we think are well established and important, and not expect certainty in other areas. These things are things where I don’t see why we should expect or need certainty. As CS Lewis said, if we really needed to know, we should hopefully be able to trust that God would reveal the truth. And I think that is happening about many things today where new understandings are replacing old.
I hope that stimulates your thinking and helps. Best wishes.
Yes, it is very stimulating. And it makes me continue searching and exploring 🙂
In fact, yesterday I read some very old bible commentary. And I was flabbergasted. These commentaries seemed to agree with Wright in his interpretation og The Olivet Discourse (that everything was about back then). Also they helped me view the epistles with more clarity.
If I may:
The Olivet Discourse, Adam Clarke (b. 1760–1762, d. August 28, 1832):
“This chapter contains a prediction of the utter destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, and the subversion of the whole political constitution of the Jews; and is one of the most valuable portions of the new covenant Scriptures, with respect to the evidence which it furnishes of the truth of Christianity. Every thing which our Lord foretold should come on the temple, city, and people of the Jews, has been fulfilled in the most correct and astonishing manner; and witnessed by a writer who was present during the whole, who was himself a Jew, and is acknowledged to be an historian of indisputable veracity in all those transactions which concern the destruction of Jerusalem. Without having designed it, he has written a commentary on our Lord’s words, and shown how every tittle was punctually fulfilled, though he knew nothing of the Scripture which contained this remarkable prophecy. His account will be frequently referred to in the course of these notes; as also the admirable work of Bishop Newton on the prophecies.”
See verse by verse: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/matthew-24.html
The Olivet Discourse, John Gill (23 November 1697 – 14 October 1771):
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass
Not the generation of men in general; as if the sense was, that mankind should not cease, until the accomplishment of these things; nor the generation, or people of the Jews, who should continue to be a people, until all were fulfilled; nor the generation of Christians; as if the meaning was, that there should be always a set of Christians, or believers in Christ in the world, until all these events came to pass; but it respects that present age, or generation of men then living in it; and the sense is, that all the men of that age should not die, but some should live till all these things were fulfilled;
see ( Matthew 16:28 ) as many did, and as there is reason to believe they might, and must, since all these things had their accomplishment, in and about forty years after this: and certain it is, that John, one of the disciples of Christ, outlived the time by many years; and, as Dr. Lightfoot observes, many of the Jewish doctors now living, when Christ spoke these words, lived until the city was destroyed; as Rabban Simeon, who perished with it, R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who outlived it, R. Zadoch, R. Ishmael, and others: this is a full and clear proof, that not anything that is said before, relates to the second coming of Christ, the day of judgment, and end of the world; but that all belong to the coming of the son of man, in the destruction of Jerusalem, and to the end of the Jewish state.”
Verse 24:34: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/matthew-24-34.html
The Olivet Discourse, Thomas Coke (9 September 1747 – 2 May 1814):
“Commentators generally understand this and what follows, of the end of the world, and of Christ’s coming to judgment; but the words evidently shew that he is not speaking of any distant event, but of something consequent upon the tribulation before-mentioned,and that must be the destruction of Jerusalem. It is true, his figures are very strong; but no stronger than are used by the ancient prophets on similar occasions.”
Verse 24:29: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/matthew-24.html
And if we look at 1 Thess 4:15-17:
“According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
I thought Paul said that he would be alive at judgement day, but what does the commentators say:
“We which are alive, and remain – By the pronoun we the apostle does not intend himself, and the Thessalonians to whom he was then writing; he is speaking of the genuine Christians which shall be found on earth when Christ comes to judgment. From not considering the manner in which the apostle uses this word, some have been led to suppose that he imagined that the day of judgment would take place in that generation, and while he and the then believers at Thessalonica were in life. But it is impossible that a man, under so direct an influence of the Holy Spirit, should be permitted to make such a mistake: nay, no man in the exercise of his sober reason could have formed such an opinion; there was nothing to warrant the supposition; no premises from which it could be fairly deduced; nor indeed any thing in the circumstances of the Church, nor in the constitution of the world, that could have suggested a hint of the kind. The apostle is speaking of the thing indefinitely as to the time when it shall happen, but positively as to the Order that shall be then observed.”
The next two commentators explain it well, I think:
“That we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord:
not that the apostle thought that he and the saints then in the flesh should live and continue till the second coming of Christ; for he did not imagine that the coming of Christ was so near, as is manifest from ( 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 ) though the Thessalonians might take him in this sense, which he there corrects; but he speaks of himself and others in the first person plural, by way of instance and example, for illustration sake; that supposing he and others should be then in being, the following would be the case: and moreover, he might use such a way of speaking with great propriety of other saints, and even of those unborn, and that will be on the spot when Christ shall come a second time; since all the saints make up one body, one family, one church and general assembly; so that the apostle might truly and justly say, “we which are alive”; that is, as many of our body, of our family, of our church or society, that shall be living at the coming of Christ; and he might choose the rather to speak in this form, person, and tense, to awaken the care, circumspection, diligence, and watchfulness of the saints, since it could not be known how soon the Lord would come: however, from hence it appears, that there will be saints alive at Christ’s second coming; he will have a seed to serve him till he comes again; he always had in the worst of times, and will have, and that even in the last days, in the days of the son of man, which are said to be like those of Noah and of Lot: and these are said to “remain”, or to be “left”, these will be a remnant, the residue and remainder of the election of grace, and will be such as have escaped the fury of antichrist and his followers, or of the persecutors of the saints: now these”
“That we which are alive, &c.— Because here and elsewhere St. Paul speaks in the first person plural, and thereby seems to join himself with those who should be alive at Christ’s second coming, when the dead are to be raised, and the living transformed,—some have too hastily concluded that he thought the day of the Lord to be just then at hand; and that he, and several of the Christians of that age, should be of the number of those who should (not die and be raised again, but) be transformed: but they are great strangers to St. Paul’s stile and manner, who have not observed in what a latitude he uses the word we; sometimes thereby meaning himself, and at other times himself and his companions; sometimes the Apostles, and at other times the Christians in general;—in some places the Jewish, and in other places the Gentile Christians. Besides, how often are all Christians considered as one church, one family, one kingdom, one city, one building, the members of one and the same body, whether they be in heaven or on earth, in what age or nation soever they live! Further, to confirm this interpretation, it is evident that St. Paul expected not to escape death, but that he should die, and rise again, 2 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:8. Philippians 1:23; Philippians 3:10-11; Philippians 3:21. And, finally, when the Thessalonians, by the means either of some weak or some designing persons, were led into this mistake, St. Paul himself wrote them a second Epistle, in which he assures them, that he did not design to say any such thing as that the day of the Lord was at hand; for a grand apostacy was first to happen in the Christian church. See the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Dr. Heylin renders the latter part of this verse thus: “That we who remain alive until the coming of the Lord, shall not enter [into bliss] before those who are departed.”
Interesting how Thomas Coke mentions Philippians 3:10-11:
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
John Gill on verse 11 explains this well, I think:
“If by any means I, might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not in a figurative sense, the resurrection from the death of sin to a life of grace, of which Christ is the efficient cause, for this the apostle had attained to; unless the consummation of that spiritual life, in perfect holiness, should be intended, than which nothing was more desirable by him; nor in a representative sense, for this also he enjoyed in Christ his head, being risen with him, and in him, when he rose from the dead; but in a literal sense and designs not the general resurrection of the just and unjust, which he believed; for he knew that everyone must, and will attain to this, even Pharaoh, Judas, and the worst of men; but the special and particular resurrection of the righteous, the better resurrection, which will be first, and upon the personal coming of Christ, and by virtue of union to him, and in a glorious manner, and to everlasting life and happiness: and when the apostle says, “if by any means” he might attain to this, it is not to be understood as if he doubted of it, which would be inconsistent with his firm persuasion, that nothing should separate him from the love of God, and with his full assurance of faith, as to interest in Jesus Christ; but it denotes the difficulty of attaining it, since through various afflictions and great tribulations a believer must pass, before he comes to it; and also the apostle’s earnest desire of it, and strenuous endeavour for it; not caring what scenes of trouble, or sea of sorrow what fiery trials, severe sufferings, or cruel death he went through, so be it he obtained as he believed he should, the glorious and better resurrection; he counted not his life dear to himself, he loved it not unto death, having in view the blissful and happy state after it.”
In some other instances where it sounds like the apostles make reference to the second coming of Christ, they are in fact making references to the destruction of the temple! But anyone can make the search if they want using for example the commentators I have mentioned 🙂
That was a long post with a lot of quotes, sorry.
By the way, I would love to know what Wright thinks about this Thess. verse 1. Thess 4:15-17. Do you know?
I think I have read him say, that probably Paul believed in the second coming of Christ in his day. But I can’t find it. Of course I hope that he would agree with the above commentators. I wouldn’t like Paul make a prophecy that’s incorrect.
I have found the answer to my question:
IN NTPG, p. 461, the last paragraph, you said:
The forth and final aspect of Christian hope is the expectation of the return of Jesus. It is vital to stress both that most of the texts normally drawn on in this connection have nothing to do with the case, and that there are several others which still bear on it directly. Following our exposition in chapter 10, it should be clear that texts which speak of the “coming of the son of man on a cloud” have as their obvious first-century meaning the prediction of vindication for the true Israel.
According to what you wrote in other places, 1 Thess 4:15 – 17 and 1 Cor 15:51-52 are among “several others which still bear on it directly”.
Paul uses “we” in 1 Thess 4:15-17. The obvious referent of this pronoun in this context seems to be his readers and himself. When Paul said “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord”, it seems that he did not think of the possibility that none of his readers and himself would be alive until THN PAROUSIA TOU KYRIOU.
So, how does Paul’s “we” language does not suggest that “the Lord’s return itself must happen within a generation” (p. 463, NTPG)? Similarly Paul said in 1 Cor 15:51-52, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”. The obvious referent of this “we” here is also his readers and himself. So, how can “we shall not all sleep… at the last trumpet” not imply that some of his readers and himself would not sleep at the last trumpet?
From Paul’s point of view, of course the return of Jesus might have occurred at any time, therefore it could be tomorrow — or today — and he and his readers might still be alive. But by Philippians he has faced the possibility that he may well die first (though he still thinks he may not), and by 2 Corinthians he has concluded that he probably will die first. Certainly from his perspective it remains a clear possibility that some of them will still be alive. But nothing in his theology hinges on that as a prediction which would then be falsified by subsequent generations of church history.
Well, I have read some more. I realized that I had only seen the top of the iceberg. Wow, so many commentaries on the bible! I had never seen that coming.
Well, it seems that I have to acknowledge and come to terms with the fact, that Paul probably did think that Jesus’ second coming would happen in his own lifetime. At least in the beginning of his career.
That was hard for me to swallow. I thought that having the Holy Spirit was something like being “enlightened”. Now, if Paul simply DID NOT KNEW, it would be a lot easier to swallow. Especially because that would be part of what Jesus himself said in Acts 1:6-7:
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
But Paul is stating very explicit that Jesus in fact WILL come when he/they are still alive. For instance:
“According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
ACCORDING TO THE LORD’S WORD …
(So it seems to be part of his revelation that Jesus would come soon!)
Somehow I have to understand that Paul mingled the words of the Holy Spirit (or was it from the Lord’s apostles?)/The Doctrine of ressurection with his own carnal convictions.
It seems to be ok with a lot of commentators – including Wright – who do acknowledge that Paul really believed in the Jesus’ soon coming. He doesn’t think it compromises his teaching on doctrine. Hmm, why does it not?! How to separate?
Do you have any thoughts on this?
You know what – I have tried myself to have another man convince me that he was soaked in Jesus’ spirit. And he too said, that Jesus would return in his lifetime! (Even though he didn’t knew the day and the hour). AND I BELIEVED HIM FOR MANY YEARS. So, you see, I do have some kind of problem with that …
Well, I think I’m only a few clicks away from ordering Wright’s The New Testament for Everyone with his commentaries. My intuition tells me he has a deep understanding.
Thanks! Our convesation really helps me sailing when the waves are high and threatening!
Hi Thomas, these are deep matters and I don’t have all the answers. Here are a few thoughts.
1. God gave us free will and that means people think in widely different ways – in politics, in ethics, in religion too. So there will always be different views, even among the experts. For a start, non-believers will likely think differently to believers about many things, and not all writers of commentaries are believers.
2. I think we need to distinguish between Jesus coming back and the kingdom coming. Many people, including many early christians, thought they were the same thing, but I don’t. The kingdom, I believe, came with Jesus, and came with power when the Holy Spirit came in Acts 2. It will be consummated when Jesus returns.
Some statements about Jesus “coming on the clouds” seem to refer to Daniel 7:13, which pictures the Son of Man returning to God, not to earth. If we apply it to Jesus, it describes him returning to God after his first time on earth.
3. As you mentioned in a previous comment, the “we” doesn’t have to include Paul personally (though that is the most normal meaning), but can simply mean “those of us who are alive” – and the wording suggests uncertainty and some time away from when he wrote.
I often use “we” often in a similar way, such as when I say “we have now discovered that the universe began 14 billion years ago”. I didn’t discover it, I just mean that we, the human race, discovered it. So that reference doesn’t bother me at all.
4. I think a key is how we understand the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I think there are 3 basic concepts:
(i) God so controlled the Bible writers that they didn’t make any significant mistakes in teaching or in scientific & historical facts.
(ii) Ditto, but God only ensured the teaching was correct, allowing the writers to speak in the language and understanding of the day on science and history.
(iii) Inspiration means God prompted people to write but didn’t control what they wrote, but still uses the scriptures to for his purposes.
A key passage here is 2 Timothy 3:16, which uses the Greek word which we translate as “God-breathed”. Some say this means God “breathed out” the scriptures and so they must be perfect, but perhaps a more accurate meaning is that God breathed into the scriptures to graciously give life to these otherwise human writings.
In the end, we have to choose what seems right. Many christians prefer (i) or (ii) because they feel it gives greater certainty, but in fact it just pushes back the uncertainty to the question of whether we can believe the scriptures are without error.
My view is closer to (iii), because that seems to be true to the scriptures themselves. I have learnt to accept the Bible for what it apparently is rather than what I think it ought to be.
That being the case, I accept on evidential grounds the gospels as historical but not infallible, and accept on faith the epistles as guidance but not infallible. The scriptures (Paul) teach us that we shouldn’t regard the written scriptures as “law”, but rather trust the Holy Spirit to guide us in understanding them – see Romans 7:6, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Romans 14:23.
I hope that helps.